The catalyst for this blog, I have to admit, was my friend Peter’s recent posts regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling (pdf) that a DC gun ban is unconstitutional, and more broadly the question of domestic gun violence. Not that I have ever been particularly pro-gun-usage, or even expounded thoughts on the subject before, but for some reason Peter’s arguments stirred me. For a first post, this is probably more political than what I hope the general timbre of this blog will be. Let me know what you think (I am especially interested in Peter’s response) about this thought, about the subject, about anything.
Peter’s rationale, boiled down to a woefully compact blurb, seemed to be (Pete, tell me if this isn’t correct) that even with the best intentions (those of protecting liberty, property, people, etc.), lax gun control will result in more violence as more lives will be lost to guns. Banning guns will, in effect, send the message that it is not acceptable to use guns to harm other people, and further Christ’s non-violent redemption of humanity. This is a message I can wholeheartedly endorse. It would be wonderful to see a society without violence, and I think legislators should do everything they can to get there.
However, Peter and I apparently disagree on the methods. I don’t see a ban on handgun usage as particularly conducive to preventing handgun violence. Peter asserts “It seems that putting more guns in the hands of more people will only perpetuate violence,” I suppose I have to agree with this, as we find ourselves in a sort of catch-22 situation: the alternative, presumably, would be taking handguns away from a majority of the people (if we can assume that muderous criminals will not obey the gun ban and will find ways of getting firearms anyhow), in which case I claim that violence will still be perpetuated, only without the means of combatting it.
But maybe combatting it is against the message of the cross? Maybe, but how is that for Christians to legislate? We are not living in a theocracy. Say what you want about the principles upon which this nation was founded, be they Judeo-Christian, purely economic, what have you – the government of the United States is not Christian. Christianity is not the state religion in the U.S, nor should it be, according to the same constitution that purports legal arms-bearing. That being said, I think it is irresponsible for Christians to attempt to enforce any sort of belief on the legislation of our country. For a brief tangent, I submit the subject of humanitarian aid: as Christians, we ought to be committed to “giving a cup of cold water” to the world’s “least of these”, right? But what about the set of U.S. Americans who, however odd it may seem to us, do not want to expend their wealth to help those in need? It’s a shame, but what can we do? We certainly can’t claim that they need to be “forced to help”, can we? I would not support a ballot initiative that required a 2% tax from each U.S. citizen in order to provide aid overseas, unless U.S. citizens somehow unanimously approved it, simply because I don’t think the government needs to be the United States’ moral authority. Similarly, I think that however much gun ownership might clash with the Christian ideal of non-violence, we cannot enforce that ideal on the rest of the U.S. through a ban.
“Fine, Mike,” you cry, exasperated, “then what do you think we should do?” Good question, and we’re getting there. Stealing words from Peter again, we see that with a gun ban “…a message is sent in promoting, or at least allowing, the ownership and use of firearms for ultimately violent purposes.” True, but what about those who buy guns to shoot clay pigeons? The handgun ban, if I’m not mistaken, would infringe upon their ultimately non-violent purposes, wouldn’t it? As cliché as it seems, the old NRA slogan “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” comes to mind. A ban on guns does not change the fact that there are murderous people, and even if all handguns on the earth suddenly evaporated, my hunch is that murders in the U.S. would still continue.
So, what if we tried to create a country in which those sorts of people don’t exist? Dangerous words, and no, I’m not talking about mass incarceration or anything of the sort. As I think it’s in the hands of the people themselves to provide humanitarian aid abroad, I think it’s in our hands to build the sort of communities that encourage people not to shoot other people with guns. This is maybe not as pleasant a challenge as simply legislating our fears away, but I think it will ultimately result in a closer approximation of the non-violent community which Christ’s love on the cross proclaimed.
The title for this post is taken from Rousseau’s Social Contract, which I had the pleasure of reading in a history class last semester. While Rousseau did have some radical ideas about the appearance of the ideal state (he would have argued that citizens should be forced to capitulate to the most moral course of action, but believed that course able to be determined by the state alone), one quote of his did stick with me – namely the idea that the legislator “…should stop not so much at the state in which he actually finds the population, as at that to which it ought naturally to attain.” I think that this mindset applies here, and I think the key is “naturally attainable.” A society in which killers exist but no weapons will not naturally move away from violence. A society in which weapons exist but no killers might constantly have the threat of violence, but with equally constant vigilance this threat should be kept at bay.
This thought process is not yet complete, as I’m sure you’re wondering where my practical advice on what sorts of things we can do to build these hypothesized non-violent communities is, and I have to say that I’m not fully sure. Doubtless, the argument could be made that it’s just as foolish to think to eliminate violence through correction of humans as it is to think to eliminate it through dearming, what with human nature and all that. I just keep thinking about Peter’s illustration of a parent teaching his child about how to deal with bullies – ultimately, if every parent taught his child that nonviolence was feasible, it would be, and that would be great. I, however, have qualms when the “parent” of the metaphor is the government and the “child” is the people.